A Crisis Almost Without Equal

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By: Greg Mitchell

No matter which party they generally favor or political stripes they wear, newspapers and other media outlets need to confront the fact that America faces a crisis almost without equal in recent decades.

Our president, in a time of war, terrorism and nuclear intrigue, will likely remain in office for another 33 months, with crushingly low approval ratings that are still inching lower. Facing a similar problem, voters had a chance to quickly toss Jimmy Carter out of office, and did so. With a similar lengthy period left on his White House lease, Richard Nixon quit, facing impeachment. Neither outcome is at hand this time.

The alarm should be bi-partisan. Many Republicans fear their president’s image as a bumbler will hurt their party for years. The rest may fret about the almost certain paralysis within the administration, or a reversal of certain favorite policies. A Gallup poll this week revealed that 44% of Republicans want some or all troops brought home from Iraq. Do they really believe that their president will do that any time soon, if ever? In any case, a Fox News poll this week shows his approval rating sinking to 33%, with grassroots Republicans abandoning Bush in droves.

Democrats, meanwhile, cross their fingers that Bush doesn?t do something really stupid — i.e. nuke Iran — while they try to win control of at least one house in Congress by doing nothing, yet somehow earning (they hope) the anti-Bush vote.

Meanwhile, a severely weakened president retains, and has shown he is willing to use, all of his commander-in-chief authority, and then some.

No wonder so many are starting to look for a way to soften or short-circuit the extended crisis period. Republicans demand a true shake-out at the White House. This week at Vanity Fair online, Carl Bernstein is calling for a Watergate-style congressional probe of possible high crimes and misdemeanors. Even Neil Young is weighing in with a soon-to-be-released song that urges, ?Let?s impeach the president — for lying.?

But rather than push impeachment for partisan reasons, the Democrats will actually put it off — for partisan reasons. An unpopular president helps their drive for votes in November, and everything else is secondary. Republicans mock the whole notion of impeachment, after thorougly backing that move against Clinton.

So let’s assume, as Nixon might put it, that we will have George Bush to kick around for another almost-three-years. How worried should we be about the possible damage he might inflict — and what can the press do about it?

Consider Thomas Friedman?s column in The New York Times on Wednesday, and its implications.

Friedman, who still supports the Iraq war, opens by declaring that given a choice between a nuclear Iran and an attack on that country engineered by the White House, he would choose the former. That?s how little he trusts the diplomatic and military chops of Bush, Rumsfeld, Condi and Co. He cites ?the level of incompetence that the Bush team has displayed in Iraq, and its refusal to acknowledge any mistakes or remove those who made them.?

But then he goes on: ?I look at the Bush national security officials much the way I look at drunken drivers. I just want to take away their foreign policy driver’s licenses for the next three years. Sorry, boys and girls, you have to stay home now — or take a taxi. … You will not be driving alone. Not with my car.?

The problem — the crisis — is that Bush and Co. likely WILL be driving the ?car? for 33 more months.

Friedman knows this: ?If ours were a parliamentary democracy, the entire Bush team would be out of office by now, and deservedly so. … But ours is not a parliamentary system, and while some may feel as if this administration’s over, it isn’t. So what to do? We can’t just take a foreign policy timeout.?

Perfectly said. Again, the crisis, even if he didn?t call it that: ?We can?t just take a foreign policy timeout.?

Friedman, however, is very late in doubting the competence of this crew, and he still backs away from the scary wider view. What to do? he asks. He suggests that Rumsfeld depart, of course, and then he gets into specifics of how diplomacy might work re: Iran. That leaves hanging the reality of Bush continuing to serve as Master and Commander of the Iraq war and all other foreign policy into 2009.

I don?t have a solution myself now, although all pleas for serious probes, journalistic or official, of the many alleged White House misdeeds should be heeded. But my point here is simply to start the discussion, and urge that the media, first, recognize that the crisis?or, if you want to say, impending crisis — exists.

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UPDATE:

Don’t know if this column had anything to do with it, but the Los Angeles Times is out with an editorial today (Sunday) calling for Vice President Cheney to step down. It makes that plea after declaring, “Regardless of one’s political bias, premature presidential lame-duckitis is not healthy for the nation.”

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